Leading eye health experts warn eclipse viewers put sight at risk
Schools and workplaces urged to pass on information to pupils and staff to prevent eye damage
Leading Eye Health Experts have issued a public health warning about the dangers of looking directly at the Sun during the solar eclipse on 20 March 2015.
The magnitude of Friday’s eclipse, which will see between 82 per cent and 98 per cent of the sun obscured over the British Isles, has not been witnessed in the UK since August 1999 when a number of people suffered retinal damage as a result of looking at the sun – some of them for only a matter of seconds.
Looking directly at the sun, even for a moment, can lead to irreversible damage to the eye, solar retinopathy – a photochemical reaction that damages and destroys the light receptor cells that enable us to see. The symptoms of solar retinopathy, which may not become apparent for hours or even days after exposure to the Sun, include a black spot appearing in the centre of your vision, light sensitivity and reduced visual acuity. There is no specific cure for the condition, which in severe cases can lead to permanent sight loss.
David Cartwright, Chair of National Eye Health Week, a campaign for the prevention of avoidable sight loss, explains: “Anyone looking directly at the sun during the eclipse risks causing permanent damage to their eyesight so we are urging people to enjoy this rare cosmic event by viewing it indirectly. We are also calling on schools and employers to share information about how to view the eclipse safely. Children are particularly susceptible to damage because the lens of a child’s eye allows 70 per cent more light to reach the retina than in an adult. Many parents will be on the school run when the eclipse begins so its vital they are equipped with sound advice about how to observe this spectacle.”
The fact that the Sun may seem ‘dim’ during the eclipse does not mean it is safe to look at with the naked eye, sunglasses, smoked glass or optical instruments such as binoculars, telescopes or cameras.
The only completely safe way to view the eclipse is indirectly. You can do this using a simple homemade pinhole card.
Just take a piece of stiff card and pierce it with a pin. Stand with your back to the Sun, and hold the card up. Then, carefully adjust the angle of the card until an image of the Sun is projected. You can project the image onto the ground, a wall or a second piece of card.
Alternatively, you could use an ordinary kitchen colander to project an image of the Sun. This is great fun for kids as you can project multiple images at the same time!
It is possible to purchase special eclipse viewing solar filters, although it is vital to ensure that any filter you use is specifically made for solar observation, carries a CE Mark and that it is not scratched or damaged. Make sure you hold the special filter firmly over both eyes BEFORE looking up at the Sun, and don’t remove it until AFTER looking away. The Sun should look quite dim and the sky should be completely black - if this is not the case then DO NOT USE THE FILTER.
If you are in any doubt about eye safety you can watch the eclipse on one of the many live webcasts being broadcast from countries along the path of the eclipse.
Visit http://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/in/uk for accurate eclipse viewing times across the UK.
 National Eye Health Week is supported by organisations and charities including : The College of Optometrist, The Association of Optometrists, Federation of Ophthalmic and Dispensing Opticians and Fight for Sight.
 British Ophthalmological Surveillance Unit. In 39% of patients presenting to hospital ophthalmologists after the 1999 eclipse, the time spent looking at the eclipse was reported to be less than 60 seconds
 The Vision Centre, Los Angles Children’s Hospital
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
Optometrists today warned that the relationship between smoking and sight loss is as strong as the link between smoking and lung cancer and urged smokers to quit for No Smoking Day (11 March 2015).
According to research published in the British Medical Journal as many as one in five cases of Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), the UK’s leading cause of blindness, are caused by tobacco consumption. This means smoking is currently responsible for 120,000 cases of AMD.
David Cartwright, chair of National Eye Health Week explains: “Despite there being a stronger link between AMD and smoking, than lung cancer and smoking Britain’s ten million smokers are largely unaware of the dangers. Fewer than 10% realise smoking can affect their eye health. This compares to 92% associating smoking with lung cancer and 87% identifying a link between smoking and the risk of heart disease".
Smokers are three times more likely to suffer AMD than non-smokers and are likely to suffer from the condition earlier than non- smokers.
The average age for a non- smoker to develop AMD is 74.4 years of age. This is five years later than smokers whose average age is 69.2 years. Smokers are also likely to experience a more rapid progression of AMD and poorer treatment outcomes.
Tobacco smoke is composed of as many as 4,000 active compounds, which can damage the delicate surface and the internal structure of the eye.
Smokers are also at increased risk of other eye conditions such as nuclear cataracts; thyroid eye disease; dry eye and poor colour vision.
David Cartwright comments: “Having regular sight tests, once every two years unless advised otherwise by your optometrist, is vital for everyone but never more so than for smokers. Early detection of conditions such as AMD is essential to prevent avoidable sight loss.”
However there is some good news – if a smoker stops smoking the risk of losing sight decreases over time so the sooner they stop the better for their vision.
Download the National Eye Health Week Smoking and Sight Loss leaflet for more information about smoking and sight loss.
 British Medical Journal, Vol. 328, S. 537
 Calculated using Macular Society AMD prevalence data
Perceptions of blindness related to smoking: a hospital- based cross-sectional study, G Bidwell et al.
Published : 9 March 2015
Thanks to the amazing work of thousands of organisations and individuals we were able to highlight a range of eye health issues to millions of people as well as key opinion-leaders and parliamentarians during National Eye Health Week (22 – 28 September 2014).
To help us evaluate this year's campaign in more detail and begin planning for future National Eye Health Weeks we would like to invite you to complete a short evaluation questionnaire.
NEHW 2014 Evaluation Questionnaire
The online questionnaire will close at 6pm on Friday 7 November.
Thank you in advance to everyone who takes the time to feedback their views and experiences.
Published : 23 October 2014
The sixth annual National Eye Health Week will run from 21 – 27 September 2015.
Further details of plans for the 2015 campaign and a range of exciting new ways you can get involved will be announced over the coming weeks.
For up-to-the-minute updates on the 2015 campaign plus all the latest eyes health news follow us on twitter @MyVisionMatters
Published : 23 October 2014
The National Eye Health Week team has launched ‘Eye Ball' – a fun and interactive way to promote the importance of regular sight tests and highlight the link between vision and sporting performance.
Playing “Eye Ball” is easy...
Encourage your favourite sports star to keep their eye on the ball by ‘throwing’ (tweeting) the following…
Pls RT Research shows sporting performance is directly linked to vision. Are your eyes fit to play? #BookaSightTest #NEHW14
The sports star then ‘throws' (retweets) the advice to their followers.
Playing tip: don’t forget to add the sports star’s twitter handle to the beginning of the tweet
For example @TigerWoods Research shows sporting performance is directly linked to vision. Are your eyes fit to play? #BookaSightTest Pls RT #NEHW14
Published : 25 September 2014
With the Autumn sun posing an increased risk to the eyes, National Eye Health Week (NEHW) and Boots Opticians have launched a campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of unprotected sun exposure and help prevent future, avoidable, sight loss.
As the sun crossed the celestial equator on the Autumn equinox (23 September 2014 02:29 GMT) the highest point on its trajectory reduced to just 40-degrees. David Cartwright, chair of NEHW explains how this impacts on our eyes: “When the sun is high in the sky our brow bone acts like a built in sun shade and prevents damaging UV light entering the eye. When the sun is low in the sky during Autumn months the total amount of UV radiation your eyes are exposed to dramatically increases.”
Cumulative UV exposure has been found to promote the onset of cataracts and has been implicated in the development of a range of other eye conditions including photokeratitis, pterygium and macular degeneration – the UK’s leading cause of blindness.
David continues: “One simple way you can tell if your eyes are in danger of UV damage is to look at your shadow. If your shadow is taller than you, you should protect your eyes using a hat, sunglasses or UV protective lenses.”
As part of a wider public health initiative to prevent future avoidable sight loss and highlight the year-round risk of eye damage caused by UV radiation, NEHW has teamed up with Boots Opticians to launch Sunbeams.
The Sunbeams campaign will encourage schools to include sun safety within their child protection policies. It will also provide teachers with a range of Key Stage 1 learning resources which highlight ten simple strategies for staying safe in the sun and explain how doing things such as having regular sight tests and eating colourful fruit and vegetables can keep your eyes and vision healthy.
Ben Fletcher, Managing Director, Boots Opticians said: “Everyday protection from UV is vital, especially for children, who are more susceptible to eye damage. Increasingly evidence shows the eye health risk of UV exposure - even on a cloudy day. We also know that most of our exposure to harmful UV happens before the age of 18 so it’s important to get eyes checked regularly. We hope our Sunbeam characters Ellen and Ravi will encourage kids and parents to take care of young eyes to minimise the risk of future sight loss.”
Children’s doctor and TV medic Dr Ranj is supporting the Sunbeams campaign. To view Dr Ranj’s vlog and for further information about the public health initiative plus children’s games and a host of fun activities visit www.visionmatters.org.uk/sunbeams
Sunbeams’ Ten Simple Strategies for staying safe in the sun
1. Protect your eyes whenever the UV Index rises to three or more5 – even on a cloudy day. (Over 90% of UV can transmit through the clouds).
For comfort you may also wish to wear eye protection on bright days when the UV Index is below three.
2. Wear sunglasses with a CE; UV 400 or BS standard BSEN1836 : 2005 mark – this ensures they provide adequate UV protection.
3. Never wear toy sunglasses. These offer little UV protection and can actually cause more damage because the tinted lenses dilate the pupil allowing more UV light to enter the eye.
4. If you wear spectacles, check your lenses provide UV protection.
5. Make sure your eyes and area around your eyes is fully covered. Large lenses and wrap-around styles provide the greatest protection.
6. Wear a hat, cap or visor for added protection
7. Sit or play in the shade
8. Stay out of the sun between 12pm and 3pm when the sun’s rays are strongest. Up to 50% of the total daily UV is emitted between these times!6
9. Never look directly at the sun, this can permanently scar the retina.
10. Remember the shadow rule…
… If your shadow is taller than you are your eyes are at greatest risk from UV exposure, as your brow bone no longer offers natural protection.
 Linetsky M, Raghavan CT et al. "UVA light-excited kynurenines oxidize ascorbate and modify lens proteins through the formation of advanced glycation end products: implications for human lens aging and cataract formation." Journal of Biological Chemistry, May 2014. DOI: 10.1074/jbc.M114.554410
 UV and the eye, review of the latest research, Professor James Wolffsohn, Aston University, 2012
 More than 50% of sight loss is avoidable (Future Sight Loss Report, Access Economics, 2009)
 The Vision Centre, Los Angles Children’s Hospital
Diffey BL and Larko O, Clinical climatology (1984)
Published : 24 September 2014
Seventy five per cent of older people who suffer a fall as a result of poor vision had a visual impairment that was easily correctable*. So don’t be a fall guy – make sure you have regular eye examinations.
Everyone aged 60+ is entitled to FREE sight tests paid for by the NHS. You may also be entitled to a voucher towards any vision correction required. Ask your optometrist for details or visit http://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/am-i-entitled-to-an-nhs-optical-voucher.aspx for more information.
* Jack CI, et al. Gerontology.
Published : 24 September 2014
Dr Hilary Jones highlighted the importance of regular sight tests on his health round-up on ITV's Lorraine programme on 24 September.
Published : 24 September 2014
As time passes and our vision changes, the risk of developing a sight threatening eye condition increases and it’s women who are at the greater risk. In fact, according to the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) nearly two thirds of people living with sight loss are women.
A number of factors including a longer life expectancy, hormonal changes and imbalances and an increased prevalence of obesity, put women at increased risk of poor eye health.
The best advice for looking after your eyes and eyesight is to have regular sight tests, once every two years unless advised otherwise by your optometrist, as early diagnosis of common eye conditions such as those described below is vital:
Presbyopia is a condition that affects everyone to some degree as a stiffening of the eye’s crystalline lens occurs as part of the natural ageing process.
It seems that for women from 40years onwards and men from 45years, give or take, they start to need more light, longer arms or larger print to read comfortably. Even the computer or laptop screen goes out of focus when they’re tired and it is not uncommon for people to complain of headaches after prolonged close-work.
Management includes magnifying reading glasses, prescription spectacles or contact lenses or a new type of lens implant surgery, for those who need cataract surgery. Your optometrist will be able explain these options for you.
Dry eye is the most common cause of eye irritation is people aged 65+. Women are most likely to be affected by the condition, which is often prevalent during the menopause when fluctuations in hormone levels affect ocular tissue and the composition of your tears.
A study conducted by the Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR) found 61% of peri-menopausal and menopausal women suffer from evaporative dry eye.
Some research has suggested that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may help alleviate symptoms of dry eye, however, the SWHR research – which studied 25,665 women – found women using HRT (especially oestrogen only) were at increased risk of suffering from the condition.
If you suffer symptoms of dry eye – grittiness, tearing or a feeling that there is something in your eye – speak to your optometrist or pharmacist. They will be happy to advise you on treatment options. These may include dietary changes, eyelid and eyelash hygiene, lubricating eye drops or punctum plugs.
Cataracts. The prevalence of cataracts (clouding of the lens in the eye) is higher in postmenopausal women than in men of the same age.
Symptoms of cataract include blurred vision, ghosting, glare problems, impaired colour perception and poor sight that is not corrected with spectacles or contact lenses.
An estimated that 2.4 million people aged 65 plus in England and Wales have a visually impairing cataract in one or both eyes. In most cases, cataracts can be treated very simply with routine surgery as a day-patient.
Glaucoma. Recent research suggests that early loss of oestrogen, ie women who go into an early menopause, can be associated with an increased risk of development of Primary Open Angle Glaucoma in women who are susceptible.
Glaucoma is the name given to a group of eye conditions, which affect the optic nerve and lead to the progressive loss of your peripheral vision. If left untreated glaucoma can lead to total loss of sight.
Patients with glaucoma are often unaware that there are any problems with their vision as there are no symptoms until it is well down the line - the central vision tends to be affected in advanced glaucoma.
A regular eye exam will pick up the signs long before we notice the symptoms and if detected early, glaucoma can usually be managed with eye drops, although sometimes a minor operation is needed. Regular monitoring is required once the condition is diagnosed.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – Britain’s leading cause of blindness –usually develops in people aged 50+ and is more common in women than men.
The macular is the part of our eye responsible for what we’re looking at and there are two main types of macular degeneration:
Dry AMD, the most common form, affects around 90% of patients and develops gradually.
Wet AMD affects just 10% of patients. This is a more aggressive form of the condition and can have a significant impact on your vision in a matter of days. It needs to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.
AMD is rarely painful; however, patients will begin to notice shadowy areas in their central vision where the retinal cells have been damaged.
Sufferers may also experience blurred, fuzzy or distorted vision. Straight lines may become crooked or wavy and objects can appear an unusual size or shape.
Studies have shown that repeated exposure to UV light can damage the central part of the retina and contribute to the development of AMD. It's therefore important to protect your eyes from the sun by wearing sunglasses or UV protective lenses whenever the UV Index rises to 3 or more.
Remember, a child’s eyes absorb up to half their lifetime exposure by the time they are 18yrs, so protecting them when they’re young will help to avoid problems later on.
Nutrition plays a vital role in preserving your overall eye health. Research has shown that eating just one portion of fish a week may reduce your risk of developing AMD by up to 40%.
Quitting smoking and maintaining a healthy weight are also essential to help maintain good eye health.
Published : 23 September 2014
Take a look at the eye health supplement published in today's (22 September) Guardian newspaper for advice and information on keeping your eyes and vision healthy. Click here to download the supplement
Published : 22 September 2014